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National consumer study forecasts pork consumption trends and market stability of the pig industry

Will James, University of Leeds, explains how PigSustain consumer analysis will allow the pig industry to forecast pork consumption trends and market stability of the pig industry.

4 October 2019, at 12:49pm

PigSustain is a national project using a multi-disciplinary, integrated systems approach to model and assess the resilience of the UK pig industry historically, currently and in the future.

The aim of the project is to develop models to assess how the industry will likely be affected by intensification, fluctuations in consumer demand, climate change and risks associated with global production and international trade.

The project is broken down into five work packages: economic impacts; climate and links to disease prevalence; automatic detection systems; health and welfare issues; and consumer data analysis.

The multi-million-pound PigSustain project is now in its third year so with another year to go, the five packages continue to work as individual forces before coming together to produce one definitive model of the UK pig industry. To date, each group has published a number of articles featured in international journals.

In March 2019, the first results of the project developing the automatic detection system were published in Sensors. The paper proposed a new, robust, on-line multiple pig detection and tracking method which eliminates the need for manual marking and physical identification of the animals being monitored, and works efficiently under both daylight and infrared (night-time) light conditions.

In May 2019, the first results from the project analysing consumer data were published in Nature. The study has been the first step towards bridging the gap between published consumer data and known drivers of local variation in consumption habits. Will James, University of Leeds School of Geography and Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, and lead author in this study, explains how this broad analysis will allow us to forecast pork consumption trends and market stability of the pig industry.

“In this project, we didn’t just investigate pork consumption, we looked at the expenditure records of about 108 food and drink products, for comparative purposes and to ensure we spotted key trends in consumer behaviour that could link with pork buying habits,” says Will.

“What we want to be able to factor into our predictions is, for example, if people stop eating pork, what are they substituting it with in their diets?

“Equally, if there was a health scare in one industry, would people buy more or less of a certain product?

“We’re looking at people’s expenditure on products and what people are most likely to do if their opinions on production or climate change or health change.”

two women look at different cuts of pork in a supermarket
The PigSustain study has been the first step towards bridging the gap between published consumer data and known drivers of local variation in consumption habits.

The first half of the project has involved analysing historical data collected between 2008 and 2017 and now the research team is beginning to run some future projections for specific food trends and the effects this will have on the pig industry. These projections will then lead to producing strategies on how to prepare for these changes and how to respond in the future.

The first results of the study indicated that buying and consumption behaviour varied much more over space than Will and the team thought it would, and that time actually had less of an impact on consumption trends than predicted.

“We’ve noticed significant differences between certain areas of London, and between areas like Devon and Cornwall and the rest of England,” says Will.

“We were also expecting to see a downwards trend in pork consumption recent years, because of the movement to vegetarianism and veganism, but this hasn’t shown up in the data at all really which is interesting.”

An example of this geographical trend can be observed when comparing the average spend per week on sausages. Based on spending estimates for every local authority in Britain between 2008 and 2017, in East London people spent on average 17.5p per week on sausages in 2017 whereas residents of East Hampshire spent on average 44p per week.

Determining the reasons for these consumer trends can be a challenge but research indicates that there are a number of key factors.

The deprivation index of an area has proven to have an impact on what products are consumed and how often.

Religion and ethnic-background also factor greatly into where pork is consumed in Britain. If the population is predominantly Muslim or Jewish in a specific area, the consumption of pork and pork-products is shown to be lower there, which the PigSustain historical data confirm.

The PigSustain consumer analysis also found is that those areas where there is a religious or ethnicity mix and pork consumption is low, consumption of other meats was much higher than areas where pork is more commonly consumed. Consumption of lamb and chicken was much higher in these areas.

“That’s a really interesting finding,” says Will, “as we hypothesised whether in those areas where people were eating less pork, people are consuming more vegetables or non-meat products, and we were shown that people were in fact just relying on other meat-based protein sources, particularly lamb.”

two farmers assess their pigs inside one of their pens
The PigSustain research team is beginning to run some future projections for specific food trends and the effects this will have on the pig industry

These projections will then lead to producing strategies on how to prepare for these changes and how to respond in the future

From the historical data, Will believes he’s got a reasonably good background on the current demographics in Britain, what people of different ages buy and eat, and what products people of different ethnicities tend to buy.

From data provided by the national office of statistics, the team has managed to set projections up to 2050-2100 as to how populations are likely to change. The PigSustain data on consumption habits has been applied to these projections to test a few different scenarios and what the outcomes may be.

Consumer attitudes are changing every day and in such a digital world where social media influencers are having a notable impact on buying decisions, it’ll be interesting to see what is a fad and what will stick and will affect the choices of the younger generation

Will James, University of Leeds School of Geography and Leeds Institute for Data Analytics

“We’re hoping to help producers and indeed the whole pig industry understand the range of threats and challenges that they are (or could be) potentially facing in the future, based on the best evidence from the historical data,” Will explains.

“There’s scope to advance our research further so we want to gain more insight into what people are saying they buy and what they’re actually buying. For this we’re continuing to look for more input from retailers and buyers.”

Find out more about PigSustain online.